I’m interested in expressing emotional truths

The Middlesteins is the fourth novel published by Jami Attenberg. This funny and moving story of a Jewish dysfunctional family introduces us to Edie, the mother who is obsessed with food, Richard, her husband drifting apart, and her children, who quite don’t know how to deal with something that might lead to her demise.

The relationships between the different members of the family, at different times of their life, are seen through the perspective of a third-person narrator. Was this the right distance?

For me it certainly felt like the right distance. My last two books were written from the perspective of a first-person narrator, and it was such a pleasure to be able to express an opinion without having to fit inside a character’s voice. Although I definitely delve into a very close third-person narration throughout the book, so I still had to be respectful to the character shifts in each chapter. I sort of dive in and out, but I think it works.

How meaningful was it for you to depict a Jewish family?

It was a really wonderful opportunity to explore the culture and community in which I was raised. Though I don’t know if I’ll ever have a complete understanding of my faith or what it means to have faith in general – does anyone really? — getting the chance to explore it through my characters was a real joy.

Richard, who abandons his wife after more than thirty years of marriage, could be despised by the reader, and yet he’s still an endearing character, which makes him very “real” – as the rest of the family. Do you prefer to work on characters you could meet in your everyday life?

I’ve heard from some people they don’t like Richard! So it’s nice to know that not everyone feels that way, because I certainly wrote my way into having an affection and sympathy for him as well as the choices he makes. It’s important to me that my characters be recognizable – although not clichéd. I want them to be real and human. I’m interested in expressing emotional truths.

In France, the government often tells people what is good and what is bad for them in terms of food and the response is rather positive. Would this position be conceivable in the US?

They’re certainly trying here. Michelle Obama has a campaign to fight childhood obesity, and in New York City where I live, the mayor just banned extra-large sizes for sweetened drinks. I think we have a long haul ahead though.